What is the difference between a “Cult;” and a non-Christian Religion?
The word ‘cult’ has, like many other words in the English language, undergone several shifts in meaning, due to the changing fashions of general and popular useage.
It used to be used in reference to the ‘officiallly recognised’ officials of a system of worship. I.e. the Jewish priesthood, all having proof of Aaronic descent, (now all named Cohen) were the official leaders of the ‘cult’ of temple worship. That is, they were the preservers of the traditions and the regulating authority controlling the ceremonial duties and how they were performed. There is no insulting or detrimental component to the application of the word ‘cult’ to the Israelite Priesthood.
However, the word has become detached from this rather specialised useage and now carries markedly negative and ‘insulting’ implications.
It’s present use seem to me to infer that one or more of the following aspects of ‘false religion’ may be operative systematically within any true ‘cult’.
1) The ‘cult’ is unquestioningly adherant to the distinctive teachings of a living, (or recently dead,), persuasively charismatic personality. (Christianity itself would most probably would have passed through this stage initially, so this does not necessarily make a ‘movement’ a ‘cult’)
2) The ‘cult’ has an inward looking, protective and controlling spirit of exclusiveness. This usually makes it agressively evangelistic, socially very cohesive and very reluctant to allow it’s members the freedom to ‘think for themselves’.
3)The ‘cult’ places ‘high value’ on it’s own distinctive ‘doctrines’. This is usually what distinguishes it from the outsiders, unsaved or whatever terms the cult uses to identify it’s enemies or non adherants.
4)The ‘cult’ is very secretive and discourages normal relations with ‘outsiders’ on the grounds that this threatens the well being of the whole cult. This effectively allows the leadership to have an udue ability to ‘control’ the cult ‘members’ and often leads to all sorts of ‘abuse’ both spiritual, mental and physical. Restrictions applied by the ‘cult’ leaders might be :
what may or may not be worn, clothing, ornaments etc.
What may be said and by whom in their meetings. (i.E. no woman may speak or all women must wear head coverings etc.)
What may be watched or listened to in their own homes. Tv, radio, cinema etc.
What is alowed or not to be eaten or drunk by ‘cult members’.
The list could be endless.
If your Church shows signs of fitting into any of these ‘behaviours’ then it may be heading for the status of ‘culthood’.
If your church shows none of these traits, it probably isn’t a church at all. That is because these tendencies are human tendencies and both churches, (and cults) are comprised of human beings, with all their faults and failings.
It is the responsibility of all ‘inspired believers’ to oppose and expose any tendencies toward ‘culthood’ that they see happening in the church they are members of. If the practices continue to increase then it is time to leave and find a church where love is.